AGEC Students Make Food Industry Connections at AFA Food Institute 

Written By: Jo Thomas, Academic Advisor 

Cole Pearson (Agribusiness Management; Delphi) has always wanted to explore the food industry and the possible career options available with a food focused Agriculture Company. Cai Chen (Agribusiness Management; Elmont, NY) wanted to learn about agriculture business beyond the classroom and make industry connections. This spring, both students were selected to attend the AFA Food Institute, a conference aimed at broadening attendee’s perspectives on the food industry. 

The Agriculture Future of America (AFA) Food Institute is an annual conference that hosts around 75 college students who are selected to attend based on their leadership skills, industry interest and strong GPA. Delegates are able to learn about everything from production and processing to packaging and distribution of food. This year’s conference took place in the former McDonalds training facilities in Chicago, Illinois and included three days of engaging sessions, company tours and networking.

Sessions included tours of the McDonald Innovation center, Hormel’s Bacon/Ham processing plant, and FairLife headquarters. Delegates also learned about how research and development helped create new products, even getting to sample a new product at Tyson that had not been launched yet. In addition, they attended a Career Roundtable, Student Networking Dinner in Downtown Chicago, and an Executive Panel. 
The conference provides unique opportunities for students and explores the diverse dynamics of different companies. Both Cole and Cai were interested to learn more about the FairLife corporation. 

“One of my favorite sessions was with FairLife talking about marketing their products and the ideation of new product strategies. From that presentation, I saw better how companies went about their company diversification.” Cole Pearson 

“One interesting thing that I learned during the conference was how FairLife is building their brand past the controversy that happened over the summer of last year. It was really interesting to learn about the history of the company and how they were filtering the milk to make it more nutritious.” Cai Chen 
During the conference, Cole found himself among a lot of Food Science Majors and was surprised to see how they discussed business strategies on tours or how they would market a new product, something he says gave him a new outlook. “I saw myself considering the perspectives of the food science majors I was with and I certainly found myself asking questions to better understand the systems and processes that were being shown. Questions are an important part of optimizing how we interact with others and understand our roles in an organization.”

 Cai was amazed to learn about the vast amount of technology McDonald’s is using to invest in their future, “When I think of McDonald's, I think of a fast-food company, not technology. Going to their innovation center and seeing how they have a test kitchen where they would test new technology to see how efficient it was if implemented. Not to mention they were developing AI that can take orders on the drive-through. That is amazing. I also learned at this conference that normal paprika does not taste like anything. It is just added for color, I did not know that.”
The AFA Leader Institutes explore different sectors of the Agriculture Industry, offering opportunities to learn something new. More importantly, they provide the chance for students to develop as young professionals, “This conference I learned about how to better communicate with industry professionals. Throughout the tours, I learned to ask a better question. Asking the right questions sometimes can impress industry leaders and leave a good impression of you on them.” Cai Chen

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